Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was this month’s pick for the Sword & Laser Book Club, and it’s a bit of a complicated book. The novel juggles two different kinds of stories, with two different levels of stakes, and which also vaguely intersect until the very end of the story. One of those stories was one which I enjoyed and looked forward to encountering – which was good because it took most of the book. The other kind of just had me on edge and wasn’t exactly a pleasant read.
Children of Time begins with a colonization and uplift attempt gone horribly wrong. Humanity is planning on colonizing an alien world that has been terraformed, with the plan being that monkeys who have been treated with a specially designed nano-virus will handle the early colonization and development of the world until the planet (and the monkeys) have developed enough that humanity can move in. Except things go awry when, across Humanity’s settled worlds, religious fanatics kick off what basically ends up becoming a campaign of omnicide that kills the monkeys and all but the head of the research staff for this planet (who ends up forced to upload her consciousness into a research satellite) – and on the rest of these scattered worlds drives Humanity all the way back to Earth, in the process, over time, rendering Earth effectively inhabitable.
Several million years later, a slow boat colony ship comes to this planet from Earth – carrying aboard it the last hope of the human race. This is effectively the only habitable world for humans in the cosmos. There are just two problems. First, the researcher doesn’t want the humans to land on the planet, because as far as they are concerned – the colonists are descended from the fanatics and thus are effectively not even human anymore. Second, the monkeys didn’t land on the planet, but the nano-virus did, and it proceeded to uplift the insects on the planet, leading to the development of a race of hyper-intelligent spiders.
So, yeah – if you’re arachnophobic to the point that reading about spiders is a problem, this book is not for you.
This leads to the two narrative threads. One is the colonists trying to land on this planet, trying to find somewhere else when things don’t work here, then coming back when they determine they can’t land anywhere else, and attempting their final settlement attempt. The other is the development of Spider Civilization, as it goes through the various growing pains that Human civilization has gone through as of the early 20th century, though with a particular arachnid twist (i.e. the push for equal rights between the genders includes the Right Not To Be Killed And Eaten After Mating for men).
Of those two, the Spider Civilization side of the story was probably the most interesting and engrossing for me, as while it’s familiar – covering massive global pandemics like the Black Death and the Flu Pandemic of the 1920s, global wars, and religious unrest, on the other hand, it’s radically different because of how the Spiders pass information among themselves – there is no spider printing press because Spiders are passing information as genetic memory, combined with limited writing done through knots in webbing.
On the other hand, the Human plot was kind of just stressful to read. The stakes for the plot are straight up “the fate of humanity” with no margin for error, and at no point was there anything to lower tensions, or even to have a gradual rise in tension. It just starts at full blast, maximum volume, and never lets up. Ostensibly this take allows for a stronger sense of catharsis with the conclusion of the story… but instead I found myself just exhausted. I was relieved not out of a sense of the story having done a good job when it comes to reaching the ending, and instead more out of a sense of just being kind of burned out and happy that plot was over and I didn’t have to read it anymore.
It reached a point where partway through the story I just had to take a day off from the book to read something else – anything else. Fortunately, that coincided with the launch of the K Manga service, which is part of the reason how that blog post came to be. Even once I finished the book, I needed something really fluffy to lighten things up (like reading a volume of Oh! My Goddess), and I’m still not quite ready to pick up another book (which is why I’ve been getting caught up on issues of NextGen on my breaks).
As far as whether I’d recommend this book goes… not really. It’s not bad – and I did really like the worldbuilding in the Spider Civilization parts of the story, but with my current stress level, I Can’t Even the human parts of the novel right now.
If you do want to pick this book up, it’s available from Amazon, Alibris, and Kobo (all affiliate links).
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